Roddick, Gilbert Issue Statements On Firing
By Richard Pagliaro
When Andy Roddick and Brad Gilbert celebrated Roddick's first Masters Series title with a combined sky dive last August, their future flight of success seemed expansive. Now the second-ranked Roddick will leap into the 2005 season without Gilbert by his side after cutting the connective cord on his coach of 18 months.
When it comes to devising strategy for specific players, Gilbert, who formerly coached Andre Agassi, is widely regarded as one of tennis' leading minds. But the coach with a penchant for dressing in the silver-and-black of his beloved Oakland Raiders was clearly blindsided by Roddick's decision to dismiss him as coach on Saturday.
In a statement posted today (Monday) on his web site, Brad Gilbert Tennis.com, Gilbert suggested player and coach were no longer on the same page when it came to Roddick's future. The complete statement from Brad Gilbert is reprinted here:
"Recently, Andy Roddick informed that he has decided to continue his career without my services," Gilbert said in the statement. "I have enjoyed all of my time with Andy. He has been a great student of the game during the time we worked together and I am very proud of the results that were achieved. While I clearly believe that there is still a great deal of work to be done, Andy clearly does not feel that way. I wish Andy all of the best and will be rooting for him."
Roddick did not give specific details behind the decision to dismiss Gilbert in a statement he issued through his management company, SFX Sports.
"The decision to not rehire Brad Gilbert for the 2005 season is based on what I think is best for my game at this time," Roddick said in a statement. "Any more on this situation is a private matter between coach and player. That being said, I enjoyed my time with Brad and wish him continued success in his future."
Exactly what created the rift remains unclear at this point. Rumors are circulating that Roddick's family was not exactly enamored of Gilbert's vocal coaching style and were not satisfied with the progress the second-ranked Roddick was showing on the court, though Roddick finished the year only one spot lower than last year and had shown a willingness to take advantage of his seismic serve by attacking the net more frequently. Roddick's parents — Jerry and Blanche — have been extremely supportive of their son since his junior days. His older brother John Roddick, a former All-American at the University of Georgia and current coach of the New York Sportimes WTT franchise who also runs a tennis academy in Texas, has been a strong influence throughout Andy's career as well. In fact, Roddick cited the desire to live closer to his brother as one of the reasons he moved from Boca Raton back to Austin, Texas earlier this year.
The Roddick family is a tight-knit group and there is speculation that the family will now play a greater role in his career with his brother or father possibly traveling with him on the road. Rumors also persist Roddick may be interested in former No. 1 Jim Courier as a potential successor to Gilbert though Roddick's management company would not confirm if Courier was a candidate for the coaching vacancy. Roddick's close friend and Davis Cup teammate, Mardy Fish, hired the recently-retired Todd Martin as his new coach, replacing Kelly Jones.
The 34-year-old Courier, who worked with Roddick during his tenure as coach of the U.S. Davis Cup team, shares stylistic similarities with Roddick. Both are intense, physical players whose games are based around the serve and forehand. Both men faced formidable rivals with imposing all-court styles — Courier compiled a 4-16 career record against 14-time Grand Slam champion Pete Sampras; Roddick has registered a 1-8 record against top-ranked Roger Federer, winning just one set against the Swiss stylist in their last four meetings.
In the 18 months Gilbert and Roddick worked together, the pair produced a highly successful partnership. Roddick registered a 121-26 record and won nine tournament titles under Gilbert's guidance, including his first Grand Slam at the 2003 U.S. Open. Roddick completed the 2003 campaign as the year-end No. 1.
Though he did not win a major this year, Roddick captured four championships, compiled a 74-18 record and advanced to the Wimbledon final where he held a one-set lead before succumbing to defending champion Federer, 6-4, 5-7, 6-7(3), 4-6.
At the Tennis Masters Cup in Houston, a weary-looking Roddick was humbled by Lleyton Hewitt in straight sets, surrendering 20 straight points to close out that contest. It was an uncharacteristic loss for Roddick, who has established a reputation as a fighter who seldom goes down so meekly. The first signs of potential discord appeared a week later when Gilbert did not accompany Roddick to the Davis Cup final in Seville, Spain earlier this month.
Though Gilbert is respected as a master motivator and tactician, some critics — including Andre Agassi's father, Mike Agassi — have questioned his skill in refining stroke technique and implementing stylistic improvements to his players' games.
"I admit that (Andre's) signing on with Brad was a good idea. I swear the guy has a photographic memory," said Mike Agassi, who has also been critical of his son's other coaches, Nick Bollettieri and Darren Cahill. "When it comes to scouting other players, Brad's the man. He did a good job preparing Andre for his opponents...Sure, a coach will scout other players for you, but couldn't you go watch them yourself? And in the end, how much can a coach really be trusted? Your coach is not your family. He's there to make a living."
The 22-year-old Roddick is a hard worker, diligently dedicated to refining his game. But toward the end of this year, Roddick had shown small signs of regression in his court positioning — sometimes drifting too far behind the baseline to return serve and during rallies and resorting to the grinding style he played as a junior — and temperament. Roddick, who has been a fierce competitor throughout his career, was more prone to letting line calls bother him, occassionally causing a cranky on-court demeanor as he did during his 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 2-6, 6-4 quarterfinal loss to Sweden's Joachim Johansson in the U.S. Open quarterfinals. It would be unfair to blame Gilbert for either development, particularly since Roddick was rarely critical of his coach publicly.
In fact, Roddick has been resoundingly supportive of Gilbert throughout their time together and the pair seemed to enjoy a solid friendship. They had endured many experiences together on and off the court, including escaping a fatal fire in a Rome hotel last May as Roddick rescued several guests from the blaze.
"So much more goes into a player-coach relationship than just strategy," Roddick said in a comment quoted on the back of Gilbert's new book, I've Got Your Back. "We eat together, we hang out, we have a blast. When the moment comes that we have serious business to do, I not only feel completely comfortable, I completely believe in what Brad tells me. That's genius coaching — simple and complicated at the same time."
It may be that Roddick, who grew up looking up to Agassi and now enjoys a friendship with the eight-time Grand Slam champion, like Agassi before him simply felt he had gained all that he could from Gilbert and that it was time to move on. It's conceivable Roddick is seeking to make changes to his game he felt required a new coach, that he already had a new coach in mind before parting company with Gilbert, that he wants his family to play a greater role in his career or that he simply needed to hear a fresh voice.
Aside from the brief statements they've offered the principles are sharing a public stance of silence on the reasons behind the split.
The 43-year-old Gilbert has not responded to Tennis Week's repeated requests for an interview. SFX Sports has also declined Tennis Week's request for comment.